This is my story, my tale of trials and triumphs, of seemingly insurmountable odds and roadblocks. Even as I tell it, I find it completely unbelievable. It seems as though this is a cruel joke laced with purely breathtaking moments. You hear the words “awesome” and “amazing” used so freely in everyday speech, thrown around like common goods and taken for granted. But it isn’t until you’ve walked a minute in the shoes of someone whose life has been turned upside down, that you truly begin to realize the power of those words.
Someone like me.
My name is Katie Banks. I’m 20 years old, addicted to coffee, text like a pro, love with my whole heart, and you’re about to read a pretty incredible account of the past year of my life.
Growing Up Katie
I won’t bore you with long, long ago in a faraway land… but you need to know that I was adopted as an infant and loved as much as anyone could be loved by my family. I was the only girl and the baby of the brood, so I grew up very girly, yet surrounded by boy stuff. It was the best of both worlds and kept me balanced. My family was and is everything to me. Still, though I loved them dearly and it scared and pained me a bit, I decided to go away to college after I graduated high school.
That is where my story truly begins.
Whatever sadness I felt for leaving my family was equally matched by excitement. My expectations seemed reasonable to me: I wanted to figure out who I was apart from my family and the town I had known my whole life. I wanted to have fun and meet new people. I looked forward to the fact that my boyfriend and I were going to college together. (Oh, and that whole education thing too. That was important.) This was a new adventure for me, a rite of passage, and my eyes were wide and starry with hope for the future.
You know the saying that if you knew what the future would hold, you probably wouldn’t have done the things you did? I wonder if that would have been true in my case.
Yet, despite how dire things would become, I don’t think I would have changed my situation for anything.
January 12th, 2009: Fate and Rape
I lived in a co-ed dorm on campus. To paint a little picture for you, this wasn’t the type of co-ed dorm that was girls on one story, guys on the next. Oh no, this was girls and guys intermingled on the same floor. Girls roomed with girls and guys with guys, but we lived right next door to each other.
On January 12th, 2009 I was working on project with male friend in his room. This entire day is an enormous fog to me, but very distinctly, I remember that I was thirsty and told him as much. He offered me a bottle of water and I gulped it down gratefully.
That was my last vivid memory.
Time passed, whether hours or minutes, I don’t have any idea. Dazed, I made my way to the Resident Advisor’s room and explained what I knew in my heart of hearts had happened. I can’t tell you exactly how I sounded when I spoke to her; my mind, my thoughts, my emotions were all a blur. Despite my insistence about what had just taken place, the RA didn’t take me seriously. I persisted with little avail.
I went to the Resident Director’s office and explained to her what had happened. She was equally disbelieving and, like she was merely checking me off her list of “things to do when someone cries ‘rape,’” she handed me a phone number to the national rape line and sent me on my way.
I was numb. I couldn’t process anything and the only way I could figure out to cope with it was to push it aside. Convincing myself that it was entirely my fault, I even resorted to name calling and degradation. The words “whore” and “slut” seemed to be fitting to my mind, because I accused myself of letting the rape happen.
I tried to find some semblance of normalcy, continuing on with my job and my schoolwork, but like sugar to a tooth, anger was corroding my soul. I retaliated by pushing almost everyone in my life away from me. I severed the two-and-a-half year relationship with my boyfriend. I lost friends, I didn’t communicate with my family like I normally had, I pushed everyone as far away as I could stand.
This persisted until June. For whatever reason, in June I found my normal self again. My mom pointed out to me that she could tell something had been wrong and was glad to see me acting normal again. Several months passed and it seemed as though I was “over” the rape.
I learned very quickly that there isn’t a magical cure for rape, that it isn’t something you can ever completely get over.
In November I suddenly became dark and gloomy, like there was a black cloud hanging over me constantly. It was more than a funk, more than a bad day, or a bad few days. It was clear that something was wrong. So, I began seeing a counselor on campus. I poured out my story to him and he began helping me work through the aftermath of emotions I was left with. In addition, I was put on antidepressants.
All this time, I hadn’t divulged to my family what had happened that past January. I held it in and kept it from them. I know, I know, that’s so awful, especially given how close we were. But you see, that’s part of why I had such a hard time telling them. Besides, really, how do you nicely call up your family, who is several hours away and break that kind of news to them? It was easier for me mentally and emotionally to avoid that all together.
My counselor begged to differ, however. He urged me to tell my family about what had happened when I went home over Christmas break. It was difficult finding the right time, and I soon realized that no time is really the “right” time for this kind of newsflash. So, Christmas Eve, I opened up and let the whole story tumble from my lips.
It. Was. Horrible.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone was supportive. In fact, they were more than supportive, to the point where it quickly became overwhelming. A plethora of emotions filled the room. Some wanted charges pressed while others merely wanted me to get better. I realized that they all had to deal with it in their own way and though it was an emotional, horrible night and experience, it only strengthened my knowledge of how completely loved I am.
Too soon, it was time to go back to school. The second I arrived on campus in early January, I was a total wreck. What I didn’t realize quite yet was that my college-experience-from-hell was about to get more hellish (and oddly, wonderful too).
January 6th, 2010: The Turning Point
My mom refers to January 6th the “best day ever.” Personally, it felt more like the "best worst day ever." That morning, I had a counseling appointment, and left a total mess of tears and emotions. I holed myself in my room and cried buckets of tears, refusing to leave the room for class or anything. This was my low, the absolute bottom pit of my depression.
Out of nowhere, fury surged through my body. I stood up and yelled, “I fucking hate you!” to the guy that raped me, even though I was alone in the room.
That was the moment I realized that I didn’t have to forgive him yet. I had tried to convince myself that I had forgiven him, when really I was pushing that upon myself. Instantly, after releasing that anger and un-forgiving him, the fury I had so swiftly and succinctly felt was replaced by absolute peace.
I decided in that moment that it’s okay to hate him for a while.
The day after the Best Worst Day Ever I went in for some routine blood work to ensure the antidepressants were being flushed out of my body properly. I didn’t think anything of it. I mean, why would I? I have had my blood drawn plenty of times before with no problems.
On January 9th, 2010 my already topsy-turvy world was thrown into a full-blown tailspin. I was called at work and told that I needed to get to the hospital immediately because cancer proteins were found in my blood.
What exactly do you do with that information and how do you process it? I’m honestly still trying to figure that out. So, instead of fretting, instead of letting the news sink in, I did the only thing I could do: engage auto-pilot.
Immediately, I drove to urgent care where I filled out paperwork. There was information that I didn’t know offhand, so I dialed up my parents for the answer. I didn’t tell them why I was there. Auto-pilot didn’t allow for reason or emotion.
I was sent for x-rays and more blood work, moving methodically from one place to the next, always numb, never understanding.
Later that evening, when I had more time to absorb the news, I called my parents to tell them. For the second time in less than a month, I was forced to give them bad news about their little girl, about me. That isn’t a conversation anyone should have to have, let alone twice in a month. Truthfully, I don’t remember much of that conversation.
Auto-pilot still had its stronghold on my brain.
January 11th, 2010: It Gets Worse
Just two days later I received another call. My urgent care doctor informed me that I needed to go in for a CAT Scan, as the x-rays showed a tumor in the right side of my neck. After the CAT Scan, they biopsied the tumor.
During this visit, the doctors read further into my file and discovered that I was adopted from Korea. Based on the x-rays and CAT Scans, I was told that I had either lymphoma or leukemia, but either way if it were in the last stage, a bone marrow transplant would be essential. The best matches for bone marrow are usually siblings and because the registry list is ridiculously long, it's generally best to find sibling donors. The tricky factor was in the fact that I was adopted and my files were essentially closed to anyone and everyone. So, even if I have siblings out there, it could take a long time to even find them, never mind ask if they’d do a bone marrow blood test.
Once again, I found myself getting stuck with needles, this time in my back (ouch) to draw bone marrow for testing.
January 12th, 2010: Anniversary of “The Day”
Exactly one year after the rape, my life was completely different. My mom drove down to be with me. We spent the day having fun, thinking positive, and enjoying life. My mom confessed to me that if the Best Worst Day Ever hadn’t happened, she was sure I wouldn’t be alive any longer. She saw how dark I had become and could sense in me that I couldn’t take any more bad news. She felt as if I hadn’t reached that breaking point, that this cancer news would’ve sent me over the edge and compelled me to end my life.
An epiphany, one of many to come, came to us. I had to get past the anger part of dealing with being raped in order to ready myself mentally for the onslaught of cancer news that I was going to receive.
January 14th, 2010: Another Phone Call
At my counseling appointment, I revealed my cancer news. My counselor told me to pack up my things and go home to be with my family. We discussed how I could deal with the news, with moving home, with everything, and I left feeling empowered, ready to face whatever came my way.
While walking out of the appointment, I glanced down at my phone. There was a missed call from my doctors’ office, accompanied by a voicemail that informed me they found two more tumors.
They left a message about tumors.
Friday, January 15th, 2010: The Death Sentence
Yet another trip back to the hospital. There, I received the maddening news that the hospital somehow lost my first tumor biopsy.
So, I was sent in for a biopsy of all three tumors that they had expressed to the lab. I also found out that my bone marrow had cancer in it. Do you know what that meant?
I had four months to live. To put it into perspective, that’s May 2010. That’s a little more than two months from publish date of this page. I’m 20 years old. I’m healthy, I’m vibrant, and I’m pretty darn great according to the people who know me best. I cannot be given a “four months to live” death sentence.
It. Just. Didn’t. Make. Sense.
There was a glimmer of hope in this moment. The doctor mentioned that the tests are so incredibly sensitive for bone marrow that it could’ve been compromised. Therefore, they wanted to do a re-test to be sure.
That night, I went out to dinner with friends. The idea was to say goodbye to them, for a little last hurrah of this college life that I had so briefly experienced. Emotion enveloped me; raw, pure, painful emotion. I stepped outside to call my parents and was bawling before they even picked up the phone. The weather mimicked my distraught emotion by sending sheets of rain to drench me from head to toe. I stood in the downpour sobbing. I sobbed for myself, for my family, my friends, the unknown, and my fate.
I sobbed and I still didn’t understand why. Why me?
Things Start Looking Up… Comparatively, Anyway
From January 18th-26th I was busy. I packed my room, said goodbye to friends and tied up loose ends at work and school. I had an exit interview with the college where I poured out all of my disdain for the way my rape situation was handled. I drove home.
I was also called and told that the tumors were benign.
As if that weren’t enough, the results from my second bone marrow draw came back showing that I did not, in fact have cancer cells in my marrow.
Finally, I felt like I could breathe, just a little bit. My medical files were en route to a hospital closer to my hometown and there wasn’t anything I could do but try to recuperate and decompress.
February 12th-16th, 2010: Get Me Off This Roller Coaster!
Time was passing quickly with little communication about my medical information. I called the new hospital to check up on the status of things, was informed that they hadn’t received my paperwork and was told to call on the 16th if I didn’t hear back before then.
On Valentine’s Day, my phone showed yet another missed call accompanied by an urgent-sounding message to call the hospital. Generally, when a hospital calls you telling you to return their call immediately, you tend to think the worst.
Trying to prepare for what I was about to hear, but not really knowing how, I dialed the number and was transferred to the billing department.
“Um, huh?” would be a good description of what ran through my mind at that moment. Of all of the departments I have been in contact with at the hospital, billing wasn’t my usual “call back immediately” department. In fact, billing wasn’t my thing at all. I don’t know all the insurance and money mumbo jumbo.
After I was connected, I was told that an anonymous group had made a payment toward the bills that weren’t covered by insurance. They were all completely paid off. I will never forget the words, “You have no more bills at this hospital.”
Have goose bumps yet? Just wait. It gets even better.
But first, it gets worse again.
February 16th, 2010: Ugh.
It’s terminal. I have Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I will have it for my entire life.
February 20th & 21st, 2010: The “Meant To Be” Road Trip
Something was nagging at me to go back to my school to visit. God wanted me there, but I’ll be darned if I wasn’t dragging my feet about going. I whined to my mom that I didn’t want to go. She told me, like a mom would, “Then don’t.” It was a lot like when you’re a kid and you say to your mom, “It hurts when I do this!” and she says, “Well, then don’t do that, silly.” Except this time, I wanted her words to be right, but I knew they weren’t. There was an inexplicable “You NEED to go” message that played over and over in my head.
I drove five hours to my former campus. Tired, cranky, and a little resentful for being back in the place where I had so many awful memories, I held on to the silver lining that at least I’d be able to see my old roommates and friends who knew I was coming to visit.
This is where it really became clear that God had other plans for my road trip.
No one was on campus. My roommates had gone to the zoo of all places; other friends were sleeping the Saturday away. I was upset… no, wait. I was downright pissed! I called my mom and told her as much. She suggested I walk around and see if anyone was out and about. Seemed like a good idea, so I did.
I ran into the head of Resident Directors, the woman who was in charge of the RA and RD I had dealt with after being raped. She asked how I was doing, I filled her in.
I discovered that the RDs held a meeting after I left. It was decided in that meeting to pay for my medical bills, to stop fundraising for the dorms or other college aspects and instead put the money toward my bills. They called the Red Cross who organized a bone marrow drive to place people on the transplant list. I needed bone marrow, but so do many others and this was an awe-inspiring feat to me.
In addition, the alumni association got involved. There are currently several thousand dollars waiting for me, should I need to use them for future medical bills. I was told that one alumnus wrote out an $800 check merely for the fact that he has a 20-year-old daughter and couldn’t imagine going through what my family is.
Can you believe that it gets even better and more amazing from there? Well, believe it, my friend.
On Sunday, I ran into my former roommate. She went on to explain that her boyfriend’s sister was incredibly touched by my story. As it turns out, she is an up-and-coming singer/songwriter and composed a song about me for her high school senior project. It was sent to a record label. They were moved and inspired by the song and my story…
I don’t want to jinx anything, so I cannot divulge names quite yet, but this record label passed the song on to a major Christian recording artist who has decided not only to record the song, but also put it on an upcoming album. You would not believe my shock and complete disbelief when I saw the email from this artist sitting in my inbox. I had to read it several times for it to sink in.
I hate teasing you with that information, but as soon as I know more and it is set in stone, I’ll definitely let you know.
My Journey Continues
There you have my story, where I’m coming from emotionally and medically. It is remarkable to me that this all began with rape. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have been on antidepressants, and likely wouldn’t have had my blood tested when I did. Throughout this past year, I have been shown time and time again that good things come from bad situations. Sometimes it’s something good for me, sometimes it’s something good for someone close to me. But always, it’s meaningful and happens for a purpose.
I am unsure of what the future holds for me, but I do know what is important right now. The purpose of this blog is to inspire you to hold on to the blessing of life. I hope, in return, you can offer me inspiration as I continue along this trying journey that I have been sent on.
Each blog entry will likely be short, even a few sentences updating on my progress or giving you a little inspirational saying to take with you. I hope that you’ll join me on my journey to take a hold of life, fight this battle, and make the surreal real. Your encouraging comments would mean the world to me, so please, if you feel compelled to do so, comment away.
Photo Credits (all sourced from sxc.hu):
Water Bottle by malko
Apocalypse Thunder by Dimitri_c
Suicide Files 3 by lie_one
Personal Files by davidibiase
Call_me by clix
Rain by stylesr1
Jubilee Coaster by minidan49
Sheet Music by yejunkim
Suicide Files 3 by lie_one
Personal Files by davidibiase
Call_me by clix
Rain by stylesr1
Jubilee Coaster by minidan49
Sheet Music by yejunkim